What is this indicator?
Los Angeles County Public Health and Los Angeles City Sanitation officials monitor beach water quality for certain kinds of bacterial contamination. If levels of bacteria exceed safety standards, health officials notify the public by posting signs indicating a warning or closure is in effect. This measure reports on the six Santa Monica beaches: Montana, Wilshire, the Pier, Pico-Kenter, Strand and Ashland. There are different pollution standards for wet weather and dry weather months. The standards differ because rain contributes significantly to urban runoff and beach water pollution whereas pollution during the dry weather season comes from different sources.
This indicator measures the number of beach warnings and closures during dry weather months (April-October).
Why is it important?
The quality of water at Santa Monica beaches impacts residents and visitors alike, and certain beaches, such as the Santa Monica Municipal Pier, are subject to frequent warnings due to high bacterial levels. The high bacterial levels at this location result from an abundant nesting and daily influx of pigeons and resultant bird waste combined with beach geography which concentrates that waste. Tracking beach warnings and closures provide transparency for beachgoers and data for policymakers working to improve conditions.
How are we doing?
During the dry months in 2019, there were a total of 73 beach warnings. The City aims to drop to zero beach warnings during dry weather months through aggressive clean-up strategies by 2020.
Previous initiatives to address elevated bacterial levels include the Clean Beaches and Ocean Parcel Tax Measure “V”. The first project funded by this tax, the Pier Storm Drain Improvement Project, was completed in 2009. It eliminated the output from the Pier storm drain as a source of beach water contamination during the dry season.
The pigeon exclusion project was implemented under Measure V in 2009 to improve water quality by installing bird netting under a small inter-tidal section of the Santa Monica Pier. Though the netting project showed an initial improvement, the netting proved to be ineffective and difficult to maintain long-term. As a result, bacteria levels under and near the Pier are up again.